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Benedict's Weightlifting Erb's Palsy skills

Updated: Apr 17, 2018

I find it really inspiring seeing people achieve great things despite having a physical disability. Despite having #brachialplexusinjury Benedict has gone on to be an Olympic weightlifter. It just goes to show what you can do if you have commitment, discipline and drive...

Hi my name is Benedict Millson and I am a 21 year old Olympic weightlifter with Erbs Palsy in my left shoulder. I had a difficult birth (Dystocia) due to being 10lbs+ and extremely tall which resulted in the nerve branches of C5 being damaged. This affected my left arm and shoulder to the point where my arm was twisted round and bent at the elbow.

The nerve damage was such, to the point, where I could not feed, because of an impaired sucking reflex and had to be fed through a gastric tube for the first week or so of my life. My speech was also affected and I did not cry for the first 6 weeks in my life! I later had speech therapy from the age of 2½ months. Another common problem for me is that I could not immediately feel heat, and I remember a story my mum told me about me placing my left hand on a burning radiator and just sitting there with not a care in the world.

Incredibly, I was ridiculously lucky in that, although Erbs Palsy is not relatively common, a nurse at the hospital had just been on a course for the condition and recognised the symptoms. There was only really 2 specialists in the UK at that time as it was still a little known condition. Fortunately my mum is literally the best mum in the world and she drove me to these two specialists at different sides of the country. It was decided that I would undergo intensive physiotherapy from the age of 2 weeks old. I would do the physio prescribed exercises on a daily basis and my mum was told I, essentially, did not know I had a left arm. I would do everything with my right hand.

"For me, the challenge of Erbs Palsy has enlightened me to the vast possibilities we possess. Sufferers may have to adapt their movements in order to fulfill certain tasks… and you know what? That is perfectly fine. Even Inspiring!"

Daily tasks and growing up with Erbs Palsy

Certain daily tasks were hard and had to be adapted to get around my specific weaknesses. My mum decided that she would buy me over sized toys so that I had to use both hands to play with them. She would buy me cups with two handles to stop me from just using my dominant hand. This was a ‘toned down’ version of physiotherapy that my mum was prescribing me, albeit perhaps, unintentionally.

From the age of 10 months I began a gymnastics class (not a ‘fit tots’ class as my mum would stress) and this was probably the single best thing for my development. Without a doubt! I progressed so much, and to the point where I overtook the ‘able-bodied’ people, that I had to be moved up classes and age groups. I actually stopped at 7 years of age because I had to move up a class and would have to leave my friends behind!

At the age of 7 me and my family moved from the south of England to the North to be closer to my mums' parents. We moved to a seaside town where learning to swim was a necessity. This was where I discovered the first problem that would affect sports per se. I was continually told to rotate my arm close to my head but literally could not with my left arm. This stopped me from moving up groups and progressing in the sport and is undoubtedly the reason I don’t like swimming.

At the age of 13 I started to run track and field (100m and the triple jump) and continued this until I was 18 years old and left home for university. Because of the nature of the sport I wasn’t hugely disadvantaged and progressed rapidly to a national standard at the age of 15-16. As this sport was accessible to me I thoroughly enjoyed it and will always hold it in a positive light, triple jump will always be my first love!

However, I began weightlifting at the age of 18 at university because of the requirements of the degree I was on, among other reasons. The two lifts (the snatch and the clean and jerk) were, to me, some of the greatest feats of strength, mobility, power and athleticism among all sports. I loved it so much and it is the reason I continue to lift even through some of the problems I will outline.

Firstly lifting heavy weights from the floor require an erect spine and a flat upper back. I find this very difficult to do and I can only assume it is down to this condition. Secondly, to complete a lift successfully your elbows need to be fully locked out and, when my arm starts to fatigue, I can occasionally completely lose the ability to do this. Finally, although rare, my shoulder can partially dislocate when above my head so this has obviously resulted in me not being able to continue holding said weight up. Unfortunately this has resulted in me having ‘accidents’ involving the loaded bar (usually over 100kg) and my skull!

Fortunately, some of the kindest people have helped me fund raise so I can buy some protective head wear to continue doing the sport I love! For me, the challenge of Erbs Palsy has enlightened me to the vast possibilities we possess. Sufferers may have to adapt their movements in order to fulfill certain tasks… and you know what? That is perfectly fine. Even Inspiring!

Instagram - @mrbigfriday 

I think it's so important to hear other people's stories about living with #erbspalsy because we all have different degrees of it. Some people have very minimal movement, while other have very good range. It doesn't matter how "good or bad it is, we are still all in this together and we can inspire and grow together.

Benedict was kind enough to also video his story for us. Check it out here...

Much love x

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